By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Break or Remake?
The Royal Wedding we saw recently, carries levels of meaning. Not the least is that it exhibited an inherent flexibility of a public social and political instrument- in this case the Royal Monarchy. Perhaps, the monarchy had learnt lessons from the tragic death of Diana. But being ready to learn is itself demonstrative of the quality of suppleness. In confronting an external threat to its known way of life, the British Monarchy had two options: one was to let it break asunder; the other was stop it from breaking by absorbing the threatening factor, person or force. The second option keeps the institution strong by allowing for variety and readiness to face future “indiscretions.”
This is what the British Monarchy did when the proposal of Prince Harry came up. Meghan Markles was American;she was half-black; she is a divorcee; she had been a movie actress and her social backround had not been elite at all. However, the British royalty said “yes.” Maybe after attempts at persuasion; but they approved and got ready for the event. To me, the most warming incident of the marriage ceremony was when Prince Charles walked Meghan down the aisle in circumstances where her father could not turn up. The graceful venerable Prince, who resignatedly played a whole life as second fiddle to his Royal partner Majesty the Queen, once again undertook to chaperone Meghan in Royal humility.
I had an interesting online message from a friend who presented an imaginary dialogue of a stereotyped encounter that would hypothetically take place in a standard Sri Lankan Sinhala family in situations of external threats to ‘marital purity and honour.’ I reproduce it for the reader not merely for the latter’s entertainment but as a demonstrative illustration of how Sri Lankan families face social threats from contradictions of this sort. Here it is:
Mother to young daughter (subject of the proposal): “ You will do this marriage only on my death bed…. you understand?”
Father: You are ruining our good name and honour. You have tarnished our face with black, kitchen soot.”
Other Relatives: “ Sure way to spoil our kids, too. Our race is finished!”
The imaginary dialogue suggests that the Meghan lesson can be useful learning for ordinary folk in their daily lives-wherever we may live. Are you going to break or are you going to remake?
Evolution towards Democracy
Let’s shift focus,however, from the societal context to the poltical context. History provides exemplary illustrations of mouldability on the part of the monarchy in its tarnsfer into a Parliamentary democracy. The first important historical stage that marked this path of evolution towards democracy had been in 1215 when King John succumbed to the pressure of noblemen to sign the Magna Carta, which placed limits on the king’s power. The king signed it and readily began seeking the consent of the lesser noblemen over whom he governed, before he could tax them. This trend to consult the noblemen eventually led to the formation of the institution of Parliament.
An exception to Royal flexibility came up from King Charles I and the latter was executed in 1649 for carrying out war and taxing without consultation. The son of the executed King Charles II succeeded after a brief experiment with a Republic under Cromwell. It was when Mary II and her husband, William of Ornage became King and Queen( 1689) that the British Monarchy transformed into a constitutional monarchy like we have today. Parliament insisted that all powers including power to tax be handed over to it. The Monarchy did not obstruct that and it gave in. Since that time, the British Monarch stands as a figurehead as far as constitutional powers are concerned. Full constitutional monarchy happened only in 1721 under George I when a single Parliamentarian called Robert Walpole, then known as the Fisrt Lord of the Treasury, came into a new position of Prime Minister.
When the franchise itself widened in 1918 with the Representation of the People Act the democratic evoltion had been complete and Britain had a Monarchy, that stood still great and proud all right but with only symbolic power. Until this Act, only 60 per cent of British men had the right to vote. The electoate now tripled. Popular pressure became great and real. The British Monarch, long respected and venerated, begam to reign only and not rule really.
The British Monarchy knows its strength lies in the great tradition. To be sure, it is today a vital institution in the British polity. It keeps this role well after having sensed pragmatic need and then yielded to external forces of threat by absorbing the latter into a broader fold where both itself and the peoples’ representatives know to play and understand their respective boundaries.
Meghan as a New force?
It is unlikely that threats to an old orderly way of life will cease with the marriage. Meghan Markles will not be a Kate. She is a stronger charcter with a will of her own. That is how a media personality and movie star is made up. Meghan has also been noted as a fighter for womens’ rights. She is bound to step outside the Royal veil and become “too noticed.” Maybe for the common good! Who knows? Will the Royal establishment become a new force with Meghan Markles.
Steve / May 20, 2018
“Will the Royal establishment become a new force with Meghan Markles.”. Meghan will have to live by the rules of the Establishment. If she fails , she will end up as an ex-member of the royal family.
nimal fernando / May 21, 2018
It sounds like you are a diehard Anglophile and a monarchist to boot! My grandmother was one.
I can’t give a learned academic dissertation on the whole darn shindig since I’ve barely gone to school in the literary sense ……… but for sensitive plebs living in reality out here on the streets ………. the English are the scum of the earth when it comes to perpetuating racism all around the world wherever they go.
Perhaps you had an easier time with them because of your lighter skin. ……. but imagine someone looking like Ajantha Mendis or Aravinda De Silva ( the typical Lankan look) having to live among them. God have mercy.
I know what I’m speaking …… part of my education was in what most Lankans consider their good ol’ motherland …………and I don’t even look Lankan ………..
We can’t be subservient and look up to the English anymore ………. it’s not going to takes us anywhere ……… we have to break free from the British-past like the Yanks ……… and now slowly the Indians doing the ol’ one-upmanship on the former colonial-masters by owning and manufacturing Jaguars and Range Rovers ……….. and taking over Kensington and Chelsea ………..
But gotta admit that Canada, NZ and your Australia wouldn’t be the countries they are if the Queen is not the head of their governments ………. pray that your country doesn’t become a republic!
The only former colony that’s a successful republic now is the Socialist Buddhist Republic of Sri Lanka which is neither truly socialist or Buddhist …………but what’s in a name? It would be even more successful if people can or would want to live there. Well, things can always improve ………….
Jim Softy, ramona therese fernando, …………… my dear dear Lankan brothers and sisters ……….. ye can always have my shoulder to cry on but I can’t be your brother in arms …….. I wish I did but I don’t look like ye…………..
ramona therese fernando / May 21, 2018
Oh gosh nimal Fernando…….boy, you sound like some of our Thamil brethren. These people go around whispering in Sudda ears about how Lankans who are a bit fair are discriminating against them. Full of jealousy about lighter-skinned Lankans, they make sure that these people feel the wrath of the British condescension. British full of pomposity of their perceived non-racist tendencies (or they feel it is only they who can be racist), become all rattled up against anyone darker who is perceived as being racist. Thankfully, you’d find a more clear-thinking Englishman who will have a more discerning views, and who knows when bs is bs. Thankfully the Americans have none of these concepts up their heads.
nimal fernado / May 21, 2018
I wanted to ruffle some feathers and just checking if people are awake or sleep-walking! :)))
old codger / May 21, 2018
It is ok to be Anglophile. After all we are communicating in English. But I don’t see why we should be interested in anybody’s wedding if we don’t know them personally. Whether they wear Gucci dresses and smart military outfits and get married in Westminster Abbey is less important to me than the current price of parippu .
Simon De Silva / May 21, 2018
What the English people love in Royal Family is disipline. Almost some other countries where no such role model is placed believe today, if they had such role model, their displine would have been better.
In lanken context – they have nothing but the name buddhism above anything else. Those who abuse buddhism – are the power intoxicated politicians. Best exmaple is Rajpaakshes. They do anything and everything against fellow citizens as was the riots reported from Kandy recently, … but try to catch the fish by attacking them… Media prostitutes because of saving their own lives, report in favours oof the facists Rajapakshe.
Grass root level thugs have been built up for their survival. If anything woudl be the case, Rajapakshe just put the button only, waves of human violations occur singing the song of war victory claimed by his term.
No matter even if rapists and high criminals would have been bred, they dont just care. this is how lankens act today.
No the educated ones have place inthe society. Even if to share that JVPrs and their violations were similar to those of brutal LtterS can twist their mindsets.
Like for exmaple, I lost my friends in 89, – just becuse they were part of UNIVERSITIY students. They were not at all JVPrs. Most of them had been beheaded by JVPrs. So was the case with LtterS TOO, those who did not support them were murdered on broad day light.
But sinhala think if that is being done, by Tamils, – that is barbarian act, but if done by sinhalese, it is not.
Can you imagine ? How some politicians even make it louder.. on this.. they dont consider THEY ARE ALL SRILANKENs under one flag.
ramona therese fernando / May 20, 2018
British crown was convinced by the international forces, about the innovative new soft-power stance to begin taking over places like Africa from the Chinese. The royals looked unsure, but have no other way out. Clooney brokered the deal with IMF funding (thus legitimizing the royal status of the couple with the duke and duchess of Sussex title). Clooney sashayed around the wedding with a bright yellow dress and garish makeup celebrating the epic of her global success.
Thondamany / May 20, 2018
It will be Harry to break the rules first and not Megan………………Just like Shame On.
K.Pillai / May 20, 2018
The wedding was well orchestrated – particularly directed towards the ‘Old Commonwealth’. This idle talks about ‘Republicanism’ has been squashed – for a while. Has Shyamon been taken for a ride?
The wedding had all the hallmarks of an arranged marriage. The Royal Think Tank decided that the time is ripe to present Royalty as ordinary. Will it pay its way out? Watch this space.
By the way Shyamon, we have more important things to worry.
K A Sumanasekera / May 21, 2018
Our old Elite who are in better pastures now as retirees have a lot of time on their hands to watch these right royal parades on Free to Air.
Who cares except the old Pomms and of course our Old Royalists.
Americans wouln’t give a tuppence.
They had Michelle . Did it make much difference to poor blacks….
SJ / May 21, 2018
Monarchy is an archaic system and is a hangover from the feudal era.
The Royal Family is a bunch of parasites.
How can Britain call itself a modern state while clinging on to some of the most archaic institutions, including the national anthem.
Royal Weddings make good show business. Charles-Diana wedding was a far bigger show, followed by a wrecked marriage and a tragic death that attracted even greater attention.
Native Vedda / May 21, 2018
Royal Family is an industry.
I am told many successful attempts have been done in the past 30 years to modernize its purpose and practices. Many people go to the UK to watch shows produced by the Royal Household, which generate billions of pounds and creates many jobs.
No business is like show business.
Siri Mao’s family should have been crowned in such a way we would have had an empress Victoria useful for all purpose.
Bandusena / May 21, 2018
Soundly written good piece. Thanks for thoughts to ponder.
Jim softy / May 21, 2018
Most australians are anti British royals. I think A Common wealth Migrent show his alligience to the Royals. IF you consider statistics Even British are not that pro-Royal. australiens are too like wise.
Jim softy / May 21, 2018
This bashing of you of Sri lankan family should have been in 1950s or 1960s. Writing it now is like talking about what australians did when Australians were British criminals. Just arrogance and high ego trying to be a Kalu sudda in Australia. YOu were just a university Secretary and you have a BA degree in western philosophy which is crap but you show that you are big shot.
Amaradasa / May 21, 2018
And, he was Saimon those days.
mama Sinhalam / May 21, 2018
Utterly irrelevant to us. You may have studied British history at O levels. We did not and rightly so as it was irrelevant. We studied about Asia and Asian leaders. Please let this moribund foreign institution die its death. We are a republic now. She is your Queen because you are Australian. You also reveal a deeply conservative streak. I cannot see the point of your article in Colombo Telegraph. One sentence fascinated me (The graceful venerable Prince, who resignatedly played a whole life as second fiddle to his Royal partner Majesty the Queen, once again undertook to chaperone Meghan in Royal humility. What is resignatedly? It is the old sod’s mother, not partner. I cannot see any humility in what he did. The royal family had to reinvent itself as modern and used this Afro-American lady to do it. No need swooning over it.)
Rienzie Aponsu / May 21, 2018
Brilliant. Great stuff. What you say applies to our handling of the Tamil issue, too. Avoid break up and absorb the Tamils by accomodating them into our fold. We are one. Let Tamils & Sinhala mix and let us learn each other’s laguages
Maname Saimon / May 21, 2018
While looking at “Royal Monarchy” (as the writer has referred to the clan), the right royal scandals should not be forgotten. What should have been the right place of palace horse keeper James Hewett? He is ill now and he had a right to be at the wedding for the reason Harry’s red hair shows. Should he have not been invited? Going a few centuries back in to the history, does the world know enough of their ancestor Henry VIII’s life? He killed four wives and died of syphilis! So people like Jayasinghe can lick their boots, but as a person who studied European history at Peradeniya in the early 60s, I can tell the world that the facts about the history of the royals are ugly.
Patricia Teakle / May 21, 2018
It’s love pure and simple, you can see it radiating from them. Why does everybody get so upset by love. Two people meet fall in love marry, or live together. They live a loving life .they are the lucky ones. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Nothing is more beautiful than to love someone and be loved. Surely in the 21st century people would understand that but it still seems to cause massive problems. Love doesn’t cause major wars, famine, earthquakes, disease, crash on the stock market, so get a grip everyone, love is here to stay. And all of us will e xperience it at some point in our lives, maybe just briefly or for longer but it will be there.
Voeure / May 21, 2018
Treacle all over, it looks like!!! Messy, but nice?
ramona therese fernando / May 21, 2018
Yes indeed! Perceptions of love come from the parents and grandparents setting the trend. For a young person growing up, when they see their parents/grandparents breaking the conventions and then becoming society figures, that is what they will crave.